BONN — Pro-democracy activists in the East German city of Leipzig said Sunday they will go ahead with a planned demonstration today as the country's mushrooming opposition group, New Forum, held a major meeting in East Berlin despite the Communist regime's refusal to recognize it.
The Leipzig activists told journalists in East Berlin that demonstrations will be held despite the condemnation of street protests by the Communist Party's ruling Politburo. Last Monday, more than 50,000 took part in a pro-democracy march in Leipzig in one of the largest protests of its kind in the 40-year history of the Communist state.
The latest developments came amid continuing reports that East German leaders had not decided how to resolve the refugee crisis and that ailing leader Erich Honecker, 77, might step down.
The West German newspaper Bild, quoting unidentified sources in East Berlin, said a showdown may come at a meeting of the party's 163-member Central Committee on Thursday or Friday. The Politburo is due to meet Tuesday.
The newspaper, reputed to have an extensive network of reliable sources in East Germany, reported that about 20,000 people have resigned from the party in the growing public resentment over the hard-line regime's refusal to agree to meaningful reforms. The party has about 2.2 million members.
At the meeting of the New Forum in East Berlin, 150 senior members of the loosely knit organization--which claims to have at least 25,000 members--signed up for its program calling for political and economic reforms.
Baerbel Bohley, one of New Forum's founders, said that members from 14 different East German areas met in the city to talk about a firmer direction for the movement.
In recent days, some East German officials have made muted calls for a more open society, but Bohley said in an interview Sunday that she remains skeptical of the aging leadership's ability to change.
"If there are really reformist forces in the leadership, why have they not come out of the woodwork before?" she asked.
During the last three weeks, New Forum has been in the vanguard of elements demanding a greater voice for all members of East German society in government affairs.
Bohley, a graphics artist, and others who helped found the movement have stressed its nonviolent nature and emphasized that all of its members wish to work for reform within the socialist state, rather than fleeing the country as thousands of others have done in recent weeks.
Bohley said New Forum will attempt to publish its own newspaper and will apply for permission to do so.
New Forum sprouted from nowhere four weeks ago and is now the major national protest group, although the Protestant church has served as the local focus for meetings urging reforms in various cities.
The government appears at odds with itself over whether to crack down on New Forum's meetings and declarations or to allow the movement a certain voice, through which the beleaguered society could let off steam.
New Forum members reported that the mayor of Karl Marx Stadt has offered to meet with various individual members of the group but not with the organization as such.
"We don't want to be spoken to as Herr Mayer or Herr Mueller," said Bohley, "but as New Forum. There should be real dialogue, not a monologue disguised as a dialogue."
Meanwhile, the flight of the more than 50,000 East Germans in the last month could cost the country millions of dollars in lost income, a leading East German academic said in a statement released Sunday.
Writing in the Communist Party newspaper of the southern city of Halle, Prof. Peter Thal declared:
"When people of an active working age leave our country, there is a compelling economic logic, namely that the production of national income is reduced.
"Put clearly, for every 10,000 workers, about a third of a billion marks ($180 million) is created in national income in our country each year.
"Seen over the long term (30 additional working years), it comes to quite a pretty sum--a reduction of our national income, per 10,000 active workers, of 10 billion marks, believe it or not."
Thal, head of the Halle-Wittenberg University's law and economics faculty, said his figures do not include lost investment on education and career training.
"Whatever the objections (to the methods of calculation)," he said, "the damage to our country is indisputable."